By Adam Vaccaro
What happened Sunday: With Didier Drogba in the starting lineup, Ivory Coast had to feel somewhat confident entering its match against Brazil. Luis Fabiano, however, scored twice before the 50 minute mark and Elano added his second strike of the World Cup later in the match to give Brazil a commanding lead. Drogba was able to direct a header past Julio Cesar to get the Elephants on the scoreboard but they fell by a 3-1 final. Brazil officially qualified for the tournament's second round with the result.
Frustrations mounted late in the match for Ivory Coast, resulting in an Elano injury and a whole lot of chippy play. The Elephants' Abdul-Kader Keita also gave us the tournament's most absurd flop when he ran into Kaka, threw his chest into the Brazilian superstar's shoulder, and collapsed to the ground grabbing his face. The incident may have been more humorous if it didn't result in a second yellow card for Kaka, barring him from competition against Portugal. Such acts did Ivory Coast little good, however. They find themselves in a must-win situation against North Korea next week.
Also Sunday: After New Zealand picked up its first ever World Cup point as a result of Winston Reid's tying goal in the 93rd minute against Slovakia, my father adopted the All Whites as his new non-American favorite. I told him not to hold his breath. On this Father's Day, I'll acknowledge that maybe Dad knows best. True, the Kiwis were holding on for dear life for most of their shocking 1-1 draw against Italy. But they held on successfully, and that's far more than anyone could have expected. Italy controlled play thoroughly, but Mark Paston was vital in goal and New Zealand mitigated the defending champs' vaunted set piece play. Considered by most the tournament's weakest team, the All Whites have had a wildly successful go of it already and even stand a shot at advancing. Italy's only goal came on a controversial penalty kick. Bringing more attention to the tournament's sometimes questionable refereeing, Kiwi captain Ryan Nelsen strongly condemned the foul call that warranted the shot after the match.
Showing that their impressive draw against the Italians was no fluke last week, the Paraguyans scored once in each half against Slovakia to pick up three points. The South Americans' defense was again very strong, allowing the Slovaks only one shot on net in posting a clean sheet. Enrique Vera and Cristian Riveros posted the goals, early and late respectively, putting La Albirroja in clear control of Group F with only the Kiwis still to see.
In a showing of karmic justice, France who never should have even qualified for the World Cup after benefiting from a missed handball call against Ireland has completely fallen apart just two days before what will almost certainly prove to be its final match of the tournament. Striker Nicolas Anelka was sent home after clashing with his coach, and today the squad refused to train following more infighting. Team director Jean-Louise Valentin resigned in response, ashamed of the team. The Irish are smiling tonight.
What it all means: Group F's standings are shocking at this point in the tournament. Italy was expected to easily walk through group play but has posted disappointing 1-1 draws against both Paraguay and New Zealand. Still, Azzurri is not doomed. A win against last place Slovakia would return the defending champs to the Round of 16. Paraguay, meanwhile, will advance with just a draw against the All White. And what about the Kiwi's wildest dreams? A win against Paraguay would yield advancement. They could also move forward with a draw if Slovakia and Italy see the same result and if they have scored more goals than Azzurri. If that number is tied at the end of group play (as it is right now), the runner-up would be decided by a drawing of lots. The Group F finales, which many predicted would be a formality, are looking well worth watching.
Ivory Coast will take in the North Korea-Portugal match tomorrow hoping for a Korean victory. A Portuguese victory over North Korea would put the Elephants in a much tougher spot. Should they win tomorrow, Portugal will be in excellent position as they'd need just a draw against a Kaka-less and maybe Elano-less Brazilian team that would happily finish first in the group with such a result. Drogba's late goal may benefit Ivory Coast if goal differential proves to be a factor. In any event, the Elephants must beat North Korea on Friday to represent Africa in the Round of 16.
What to watch on Monday: In 2014, Switzerland and Chile could make for a fine World Cup quarter or even semi-finals match. But even in 2010, the two Group G teams with very bright futures will have a whole lot to play for when they meet in Port Elizabeth. The group's leaders should provide an interesting match-up. Chile's attack-oriented style proved itself both entertaining and effective last week but the Swiss showed against Spain that they're capable of striking when the opposition may not expect it. Their strong midfield could easily fuel a lethal counterattack.
Also Monday: North Korea gave Brazil a much harder time than expected, but Portugal is counting on taking three points out of its match with the Chollima. Cristiano Ronaldo's squad looked solid against Ivory Coast but failed to gain a clear leg-up against the Elephants in competition for the group's runner-up spot. Now that the Africans lost to Brazil, though, Portugal would benefit mightily with the three points. There's something about this strange and mysterious North Korean team that took Brazil to the limit, though. They shouldn't be taken lightly.
Spain takes back to the pitch after suffering a massive upset last week against Switzerland. La Furia Roja will now see the group's weakest competition in Honduras. They need three points out of this one and there's no reason they shouldn't collect them. Even a draw could spell serious, serious trouble for Spain. If they fail to win the tournament favorites' star will fall considerably, and deservedly for that matter. Having said that, consider it unlikely. La Furia's attack was active last week and the team was not outplayed. Goals should come this time around.
Question of the Day: Will Chile push as much in the attack against Switzerland as it did against Honduras? Onlookers oohed and ahhed as La Roja put on a show last week, but in retrospect they needed to collect three points against the group's weakest team. Given the quality of the Swiss midfield and counterattack, it stands to reason that Chile may be a bit more reserved. But while one point would do the squad well, a victory would make a trip to the Round of 16 quite likely. Will Chile play it safe or will the up-and-comers have scoring on the mind?
Full schedule (all times EDT): Portugal v North Korea Green Point Stadium, Cape Town 7:30 a.m.; Chile v Switzerland Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth 10:00 a.m.; Spain v Honduras Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg 2:30 p.m.
Quote of Note: "It's an incredible result and it's way above anything we have achieved before against the stature of our competitors. Anything is possible and we're doing okay for a team who some said shouldn't be playing at this World Cup." - New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert following the Kiwis surprising draw against Italy.